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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Should Christians Share their Surplus?

Should Christians Share their Surplus?

Most of us believe that we have worked hard and earned what we have - our home, our land, our automobiles, and our money, fine jewelry, etc.  We believe these things are ours and by golly, we have the right to do whatever we want to with what is ours!   That’s what the Bible says that God wants for us, isn’t it? 

No, the Bible never says that God wants us to just live for ourselves and do whatever we want with our money!  God gives us the freedom to do what we want with our possessions but He asks us to do everything to His glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31)  Actually the Bible has a lot to say about what God wants us to do with our money and possessions.  We will only have time here to go over a few Bible passages and thoughts regarding this subject. 

 One of many Scriptures tells us: “You are not your own but you were bought with a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  (1 Corinthians 6:20)  Scripture tells us that we are here in this world for a bigger purpose than just to be entertained and take care of ourselves, but we sometimes forget that!  We are reminded here in the passage above that we don’t even own our own life but we have been bought with a price – the blood of Jesus.

Another passage in Scripture gives us guidance as to what to do with our surpluses – our extras.  “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none: and whoever has food must do likewise.)  (Luke 3:11)  This was part of the answer that John the Baptist gave to the crowds when they asked him what they should do in the way of reordering their lives to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Of course we live in a different era than when John the Baptist lived.  There were few in the middle class then, only the wealthy and the poor. Today most of us have several coats.  But do we sometimes shop for shopping’s sake?  Should belonging to Jesus change the way we shop? What obligations, if any, do our excess belongings and finances place on us?  How do we define “surplus” in terms of our own possessions?  Is there a point at which the amount of our belongings and finances becomes sinful?  Each one of us, as Christians, has to seek God’s guidance for ourselves and work these issues out in our own lives.

The story in Luke 12:16-18 also speaks to this issue of how we are to spend or use our money.  The story tells of a rich man who had a bumper crop- far in excess of what he needed or could use- but he decided to keep it all.  No giving to the hungry people living around him or the poor at his gates. He tore down his barns and built bigger ones.  God was so displeased with him that the man died that very night!  The story ends this way: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:21)  So we learn from this story that God expects something from us.  That we should be “rich toward God.”  Scripture tells us that when we do something for someone in need we are doing it for the Lord. (Matthew 25:40)   So we become “rich toward God” by helping others it would seem.  A question we can ask ourselves:  Are our lives “rich toward God?”

   Jesus told this story after He had instructed his followers to: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  (vs.15)  I don’t believe this parable (from Jesus) is teaching that it is wrong to store grain in big barns for future use or to have a savings account.  All through the Bible we are encouraged to save and plan ahead.  (Luke 14:28, Gen. 11:4-9, etc.)  But this story is teaching us that if we have a surplus to share some of it.

 Here is a Bible story where God is with Joseph as he encourages Pharaoh to store Egypt’s surplus grain in big barns.  The story begins with Pharaoh being troubled because God has given him a special dream.  Pharaoh sees seven fat cows in his dream and they are eaten up by seven skinny cows.  Pharaoh knows that his dream is special and has a meaning and he asks his wizards and astrologers for the dream’s meaning.

Joseph asks God for the dream’s meaning and God gives Joseph the gift of interpreting Pharaoh’s dream.  And Pharaoh realizes that Joseph’s God is the true God.  Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dream means that Egypt will have seven good years with plenty of food and good harvests.  The seven fat cows are seven good years.  And then Egypt will have a drought and seven bad years will follow. The seven skinny cows are seven bad years. The crops will fail and there will be little to eat, perhaps causing thousands of people to starve.  (Genesis 41)  God also gives Joseph the wisdom to advise Pharaoh to save up grain during the seven good years in order to have enough to feed his hungry people during the seven bad years.  I believe this Bible story is telling us that storing grain in barns or saving money isn’t wrong in itself.  The motive behind it makes it good or bad.  Pharaoh stored the grain for the future good of the Egyptian people.   His concern for his people would make him “rich toward God.” 

Leviticus 19:9-10 is another passage that also speaks to the issue of what to do with our goods or surplus.  Let’s read it:  “When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not reap to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard: you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.  I am the Lord your God.”  (Leviticus 19:9-10)

God was instructing His people not to save everything for themselves.  To trust Him to take care of their needs. To leave some for the poor and hungry in their neighborhoods.  We are not an island but God has put us in community.    Scripture teaches that sharing and giving is part of living righteously.  The Leviticus verses quoted above give a specific way in which charity was given: by leaving the gleanings of the harvest for the needy to gather for themselves.  But there are many ways to give. 

God wants His people who have resources to help provide the needs of those who do not have enough.  Giving is part of serving Him.  Everything we have has been given to us from God. (James 1:17)  Perhaps when we have more than we need, God has blessed us with a surplus so that we can give to those who do not have enough.  And we become “rich toward God.”  Being a Christian is not just about attending weekly services:  It is about the way we live our lives.

Many of the thoughts and Scriptures in this blog were taken from the Wired Word for 6/7/2015.



Saturday, June 20, 2015

Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet

Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet

The year was 626 B.C. and the Jewish people and their religious leaders had forgotten God and had become altogether corrupt.  They had built idols everywhere and were worshipping them.  God was heartbroken and angry with His people and He had a lot to say to them.  He was threatening to bring an end to their nation if they did not come back to Him.  So God called Jeremiah to be His prophet and deliver His messages to the Jewish people.  To call His people back to Himself and to warn them of punishment if they continued in their evil ways.

When Jeremiah was very young the Lord came to him and said: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.  And before you were born, I set you apart.  I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  (Jeremiah 1:5)   Shocked and surprised that God was calling him to be a prophet, Jeremiah argued with God that he was just a child and he did not know how to speak to the people. 

But God answered him: “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them for I am with you and will rescue you.”  (Jeremiah 1:7)   Then God reached out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said: “Now I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)   

God assured Jeremiah, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire.”  (Jeremiah 5:14)  Years later there was a time when Jeremiah was tired and just wanted to take a break and relax, but he said that he couldn’t do that because: “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones:  I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.”  (Jeremiah 20:9)  The fire of the Holy Spirit was burning in Jeremiah’s bones. Jeremiah was a timid person but God promised to give him the strength to be a strong and courageous man.  (Jeremiah 1:18: 6:27: 15:20)  God had given Jeremiah a big job to do, but God had also given Jeremiah the strength and the “fire” to accomplish that job.  And God will do the same for us, if we let Him.

 For forty years or longer Jeremiah traveled back and forth throughout the land of Judah calling the Jewish people and their kings and priests to repent and to turn from sacrificing their children to idols.  To stop taking advantage of the poor and to stop worshipping idols and to come back to their God or to face being destroyed.  Jeremiah had few friends and was not popular because the people did not want to hear his message of doom.  He loved his people and wept over them because no one would listen to him and be saved from the coming punishment. Over the years several kings persecuted and imprisoned him. 

  The Jewish people ignored God’s warnings given to them through Jeremiah, and laughed at him, calling him names.  False prophets came out and told the people what they wanted to hear.  They laughed at Jeremiah and told the people that it was good to worship idols and to forget God.  That this was a new day and all would be well.  That the people could do their own thing and God would never punish them for their actions as Jeremiah had predicted.  These false prophets prophesied peace and prosperity at a time when death and destruction were on the way.
 These false prophets with their positive messages were popular with the religious leaders and the kings and the people.  But Jeremiah, with his long sad face and his messages of doom, was ridiculed and treated badly.  Even so, Jeremiah loved his people and constantly wept over them because he could see the destruction and death that were coming their way.  Jeremiah was called the “weeping prophet.”

Here are some of the messages that God gave to the Jewish people through Jeremiah: 
“Has a nation ever changed its gods?  But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. ….My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  (Jeremiah 2: 11, 13)

“The house of Israel –the kings, the officials, the priests and prophets, they say to wooden idols, ‘You are my Father.’  And they say to stone idols, ’You gave me birth.’  They have turned their backs to Me and not their faces:  Yet when they are in trouble, they call to Me, ‘Come and save us!’  Where then are the gods you made for yourselves?  Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble!  ….’Why do you bring charges against Me?  You have all rebelled against Me,’ declares the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 2:27, 28a, 29)

“So I will go to the leaders and speak to them: surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.  But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke of the Lord  and torn off the bonds.”  (Jeremiah 2:5)  “Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them.  They find no pleasure in it.  I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in.”  (Jeremiah 6:10, 11)   “They do not defend the rights of the poor.  Should I not punish them for this? declares the Lord.”  (Jeremiah 5:28b, 29)

“This is what the Lord advises: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look: Ask for the ancient paths.  Ask where the Good Way is, and walk in it.  And you will find rest for your souls.  But you answer, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  (Jeremiah 6:16)

God speaks: “Why should I forgive you?  Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods.  I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes. “(Jeremiah 5:7)   “The harvest is past, the summer has ended and we are not saved.”  (Jeremiah 8:20)  

“A lion has come out of his lair: a destroyer of nations has set out.  He has left his place to lay waste to your land.  Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitants.  So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us.”  (Jeremiah 4:7, 8)

Judgment was one of the main themes of Jeremiah’s prophesies to the Jewish people.  He wept as he begged the people to turn back to God.  He cried and pled with the people to repent otherwise their nation would be destroyed. That a country from the north (Babylon) would come and destroy their nation and carry them away.  He wept when the people refused to listen.
 Jeremiah’s prophesy was fulfilled in approximately 605 B.C. when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with all of the nation of Judah and the Jewish people were either killed or carried off to Babylon in chains as slaves.  But God was merciful and eventually brought His people back to their land. Approximately seventy years later the Jewish people were allowed to return to their homeland and re-build.     
God’s messages through Jeremiah are relevant to us today because they are timeless.  Sin will always be punished.  But turning back to God always brings restoration and forgiveness.  We may not worship idols of wood and stone today as the ancient Jewish people did in Jeremiah’s day, but our idolatry can consist of such things as worshipping wealth, talent or position.  We sacrifice our children to these idols as well.  Anything we love and worship more than God is an idol.  (Exodus 20:3) And we have plenty of false prophets around telling us that it is all right and even fashionable to sin.  That the Bible is outdated and we have grown past it anyway.  God called for His people to come to Him and to obey His Word in Jeremiah’s time and He calls for that from us today.